Harpon Bay, South Georgia

I know a French man who is having the time of life right now. He is working on South Georgia, a small barren sub-antarctic island. It is an island of high mountains, glaciers, icebergs and a crazy abundance of wildlife, as seen in awe-inspiring documentaries. Really a truly amazing place. What a privilege to be living and working there.

Harpon Bay is across the hills from Grytviken, where said French man is living. There is a field hut at Harpon Bay where you can stay. You can’t find much on Harpon Bay online, so I thought this might be interesting. Here are two days from his diary when he spent some time at this remote bay.  (It is not a typo of harpoon by the way, it is named after a cargo vessel, the Harpon, that served the island until 1922)

Here it is:

Saturday 30th November

Weekend off! This weekend Hannah and I are off to the hut at Harpon bay. We set off at 10.30am and armed with a map and a compass we navigated our way over Echo Pass and down to Harpon bay. It took us 4 hours, stopping every now and then to check the map and admire the surroundings. The weather wasn’t the greatest, quite misty at the top of Echo Pass. I enjoyed walking in the snow. It was a hard walk. Bag was heavy. From the top of the pass we could see down the valley. It was beautiful. We stopped high up to have lunch. A beautiful light mantled albatross flew by our heads, closer and closer, to check us out and then left. What an amazing sight. We could also see Lyell Glacier from up there.

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We still took one and a half hour to reach the hut. The hut was located up hill, just above the tussac line and right above the beach. We can see the bottom of the Lyell Glacier on the left hand side and Low Point on the right. The view from the hut was amazing! The hut is pretty small. Smaller than Maiviken’s. We dropped our heavy bags, happy to have reached our new home for the weekend. Made a cup of tea and set off to explore our new surroundings. There are giant petrels nesting at the back of the hut. Maybe 8 nests. No chicks yet. We went towards the glacier. The landscape is so different around here. More rocky, just sharp rocks and boulders everywhere, left over after the retreat of the glacier. The beach is very wide on this end and it was so pleasant to be able to walk around with enough space between us and the furries. We reached a wide river (the widest I have seen on SG) with very strong current. That is coming from the melting glaciers upstream. This means we couldn’t reach the Lyell glacier. I really wanted to get close the bottom of the glacier. I’ll think of a plan…

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We started walking toward the other direction. Staying on the beach. Many weaners here but not fur seal pups. What a lovely beach we said to ourselves. But before you knew it, we were surrounded by 4 huge male fur seals growling at us. One charged us, we put our sticks forwards, he bit the end of my stick, I felt the pressure of his jaw on my stick and thought if it was my finger, it would have been gone. Hannah backed off straight into another fur seals mouth. This ambush got our hearts pumping. One seal also came from the sea. We stopped moving, every one stopped moving. We put our sticks out and stuck our grounds. We needed to think fast and get out of this sticky situation. We decided to head up into the tussock since the beach and the sea were a no go. The problem is, seals hide in the tussock and it is hard to see them until you are right on top of them. Anyway, it seemed like the best option at the time.  We climbed up the top of the tussock tufts. I went first, bashing my stick to make noise, checking that no seal would poke his head up and hopping to the next tussock tuft top. When a seal would appear, we changed direction. Eventually we reached safe ground and laughed very loudly at what we just went through.

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We carried on walking away from the beach but following the coastline. We saw pipits, and one in particular gave me a right show. I was able to get very close and take lots of photos. We went up a hill to look down at the bottom of Sphagnum Valley. We sat there for a while, observing the beach and all the animals interacting. There were pups there. A couple of white chinned petrels flew by our heads very close. They must be nesting around here. 18.30 I radioed KEP to let them know all was good with us and we’d be back tomorrow 18.00. We walked back to the hut looking forward to a wee dram of 12 years old. We cooked our 3 course meal, starting with a 2006 sell by date sweetcorn soup which was delicious. Followed by Moroccan veggie couscous and ending with a really nice vanilla and red berry rice pudding. We had another dram while playing phase 10. I felt quite tired. We went to ‘’bed’’. Hannah slept on a shelf under my shelf (can’t call it a bed). Her space was so narrow and tight she had to wiggle in her shelf. I slept on the top self, same level at the gaz stove. I made sure my body was constantly touching the wall or I would have fallen off the bed. I slept very well, surprisingly.

Sunday 1st December 2019

Woke up at 8am but looking outside the window I saw it was drizzly and very foggy. So we lingered in bed until 9am. We had breakfast and the weather cleared a bit. We can see the glacier from the window. It is so beautiful. The drizzle stopped and we decided to go out. The plan was to reach the bottom of the glacier. There was 2 plans. Plan A was to go upstream, find a place to cross this torrential river, or climb above the start of the river and walk to the glacier. We walked to the start of the river and it split into 2. Water is coming from under the glacier at great speed. It created caves under the glacier. The glacier is covered in moraine and was impossible to climb. We could see rock tumbling down all the time. So we went onto plan B which was cross the river on foot at the end of it where it reaches the sea. We took old wellies from the hut and thought we could use them to cross the river and not hurt our feet. The river was too deep so we knew we had to get our legs wet. We looked at the river for a while and the current was so strong even the baby elephant seals were washed away. If we had decided to go across the current would have swept us off our feet. We decided against it, and with regret, but knowing that we tried everything, we went back to the hut. Had lunch. Spent some more time on the beach and got ready to hike back.

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We hiked back in 3 hours. We stopped at the top of Echo pass for a cuppa. So lovely to hear nothing but natural sounds. No human made sounds to be heard. Total peacefulness. You feel like you make one with the island. We arrived at Drukken villa at 18.00. I was quite tired. I retired to my bedroom soon after dinner. Early night.

 

Me again:

I hope I get to go one day.

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Tarbet: Part II

So after spending a fair bit of time around Ardintigh, I started going for wee jaunts around about.

I went back to Tarbet!

I actually went back there twice – once in a kayak and once on foot.

Really cool place, for such a small settlement it has a lot of feature and a lot of interest.

On the way to Tarbet there are many small ruins on the shore

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In Tarbet itself, there are around three people living and working – some caretakers and a crofter. These people typically look after Cameron Mackintosh’s place and the holiday cottages that you see as Kylesmorar. The crofter looks after the sheep you see everywhere. I think there is also a boatman.

There is a big dark horse that oversees the whole show:

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Sir Cameron Mackintosh has a castle there

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I call it a castle, its more of a big mansion. This is his Highland getaway, in the centre of his estate. He found his wealth producing musicals and he is associated with some of the biggest musicals. He sounds like a great guy, he seems to have pumped a lot of money into the area and has supported the construction of the Marina and new visitor in Mallaig, which looks great. He has however had some local fall-outs and there has been a bit of controversy.

He held a huge party for one of the elderly chaps who lived at Tarbet, a bit of a character who defined the place. Tons of guests were invited, many of whom were locals who had never met Sir Mackintosh. Naturally they were curious who he was and were trying to guess which one of the well-to-do looking chaps he might be in their tweed jackets. As they speculated over his identity, they were served by a guy in jeans, t-shirt and dirty apron, serving food from a big canteen-style metal tray. They didn’t even realise they were being served by the man himself!

From that wee anecdote (and the huge amount of money he invested in the area), I think he deserves some respect.

But Tarbet generally is great, and everyone there is really friendly.

 

Rowing the Atlantic

I’ll go into a little of Tom’s adventures as we go.

So after employment in the SAS in the late 60s, and bored with that, he found inspiration from Blyth and Ridgeway who had together successfully rowed across the Atlantic Ocean.

He decided to row solo across the Atlantic, a feat never achieved before.

He managed this in 1969, after only brief training and very little ocean experience.

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Subsequently the Atlantic was rowed several times solo.

Not content with being beaten, Tom gave it another shot and crossed successfully in 1985, at the age of 44. He managed it in 52 days – amazingly, for an west to east Atlantic crossing, this record still hasn’t been beaten today!

Imagine in 1985, without GPS or any kind of route finding electrical kit, rowing so fast and hard that you are able to beat any kind of advanced gadget-enhanced attempt from today. Amazing.

Also, imagine being literally 1000km from the nearest land and being in a tiny boat, sleeping in a cramped wee space and eating frugal army rations, looking out over the waves without seeing anything else for weeks and weeks. The mental strength for that must be immense. Imagine being in a huge storm and having your boat tipped over and having to right it by yourself in the huge waves. Imagine that terror.

But then imagine the golden days of flat oily sea, sun on your back and nothing to interrupt your thoughts. Imagine seeing whales alongside your boat, keeping you company and following you, playful dolphins keeping an eye on you. Imagine all this at night, with a full moon glistening from the waxy sea surface with complete and utter solitude.

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I would do some very intense thinking.

I think I would also sing a lot.

Next: Tarbet: Part II

 

Logs

One of the main jobs I had at the centre was stocking up on logs for the coming winter and dealing with many of the fallen trees around the bay that were making the place look untidy.

That was entire days of moving and chopping logs.

Tom had the chainsaw and I shifted the logs into a neat pile.

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Most the trees were birch, but there was some pine, some oak and the occasional hazel.

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Next: Rowing the Atlantic